Raised Floor Systems: One Answer To Hurricane Flooding

Check out this article on hgtvpro.com about raised floor living systems and how it can benefit you!

Raised Floor Systems: One Answer To Hurricane Flooding

By Dan McLeister

They practically define housing in older neighborhoods in the Atlantic Coast Low Country and along the Gulf Coast before World War II. Ranging from fishing shacks to antebellum mansions, they all share one distinctive feature: They are raised several feet above ground using an early version of what is now called a raised floor system—a wood-framed platform that raises a home above ground level on brick or concrete pilings.

Consisting of engineered-wood beams, girders, joists and sheathing panels, raised floor systems elevate the living areas of a home anywhere from 18 inches to as high as 14 feet above ground level—above the reach of hurricane-caused flood waters. In addition, a raised floor system can help fight mold and termite problems by separating the home from the ground. And some builders and designers feel that raising a home, even a small single-story plan, makes the home look more stately.

Homes built in the last 60 years rarely have this feature, though; in the postwar building boom, builders started putting houses on slabs because that technique was cheaper. However, after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, “cheap” has become a dirty word in construction, and everyone related to the building industry—architects, builders, insurance experts, codes officials and manufacturers—are taking a much larger view of the true cost of a house. If raised floor systems cost a little more now but save money in the long run, they are worth a second look.

Pushing to go up
Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and the 2004 Florida hurricanes have put the idea of increased construction quality on the front burner again, says Dennis Hardman, president of APA-The Engineered Wood Association.

“It used to be that consumers were primarily interested in aesthetic values, room size and lifestyle amenities. But there’s growing interest now in what’s behind the walls and above the ceilings.” And that, he says, presents opportunities for wood systems—in particular, raised wood floors rather than slab-on-grade construction in areas subject to inland flooding during hurricane season.

Raised construction, Hardman says, received considerable media attention in the Gulf Coast region and is likely to become an important component of rebuilding mandates in some areas.

One of the reasons for increased awareness is the effort by Richard A. Kleiner of the Southern Forest Products Association. Kleiner has regaled numerous builder and code official groups along the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina with a presentation he calls Building High and Dry. “It just doesn’t make sense to build houses on a slab in a semi-tropical environment like that along the Gulf Coast. People in this area need to face reality.”

But, Kleiner estimates, in recent years 65 percent of new houses along the Gulf Coast have been built on slabs, most often atop dirt fill or on a backfilled perimeter wall. The raised floor system, he says, is the most practical alternative.

Even though a raised floor system can cost 5 to 7 percent more than a slab, Kleiner maintains that it is a viable and cost-effective option when builders and homeowners find out that raising the floor two feet or more can cut flood insurance premiums by as much as 50 percent.

Information about insurance, construction and case studies of raised floor systems is available on a website sponsored by the Southern Pine Council at www.raisedfloorliving.com. The site also includes updated flood zone information to simplify compliance with the International Residential Code requirement that flood-resistant construction shall include buildings that have the lowest floor elevated to or above the design flood elevation. The site experienced a 30 percent increase in “hits” in the months after Hurricane Katrina—an indication of the resurgence in interest in an updated, old-fashioned way of dealing with Mother Nature.

Coming off the drawing boards
As the cleanup from Hurricane Katrina continues and rebuilding begins along the Gulf Coast, architects such as Kevin Harris of Baton Rouge, La., are planning for client houses in which the main living area is 12 to 14 feet off the ground and reached by a series of stairs. The main living areas in these designs open onto decks with views of the nearby ocean. One house designed by Harris will be built for less than $200,000 and include 1,400 to 1,500 square feet on two floors above a ground level containing space for utilities, storage and parking for vehicles. Another house will include 3,500 to 3,800 square feet on three levels and be priced at about $650,000.

People have been coming to him for advice, Harris says, because they want to build houses that will be safer during future hurricanes. He tells them that, in addition to being safer, houses with raised floors provide a better design.

Builder and remodeler Bobby DeViller of Baton Rouge has a similar philosophy. “I have a little saying that has always served me well with clients: ‘Good home building should be a marriage between practicality and aesthetics.’ The raised floor works in both respects with homes of all sizes.”

Apparently the home builders of past decades agreed. Before World War II, about four out of five houses in Baton Rouge (80 miles farther inland than New Orleans) had raised floors. Now the figure for new houses is about 10 percent, says Harris. “I hope to see the figure back to 50 percent at the end of 10 years.”



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